Sharon describes how her 15-year-old daughter Nicki was born in a male body but felt from a very young age that she should have been a girl.
Sharon has a teenage daughter who is transgender. She describes how Nicki was born in a male body, but felt from a very young age that she should have been a girl.
"When my child Nick was about two, I realised that he wasn't playing with toys that I expected a boy to play with. He was interested in dolls and girly dressing-up clothes.
"At that age, it doesn't really matter. You just think they're trying lots of different things, so I never made a fuss about it.
"But when he was four years old, Nick told me that God had made a mistake, and he should have been a girl. I asked my GP what I should do. He told me to wait and see, and that it might just be a phase and go away. But it didn't. It got stronger.
"One day, when Nick was six, we were in the car and he asked me when he could have the operation to cut off his 'willy' and give him a 'fanny'. His older cousin had told him about these things.
"I spoke to a friend who's a psychiatrist. He said I should contact the Tavistock Clinic [now the Gender Identity Development Service (GIDS) for children and young people with gender identity issues].
"He also told me that the medical term is 'gender dysphoria'. When I looked it up online, I found Mermaids, a charity that helps children with gender identity issues and their families.
"I also spoke to my GP again, who referred us to the local mental health unit. The person at the unit had worked at the Tavistock and knew about gender identity issues.
"He was brilliant. It was such a relief to talk to somebody who understood what was going on. I'd blamed myself, but he reassured me that it wasn't my fault. We were then referred to the Tavistock Clinic.
"The team from the Tavistock came to Nick's school and talked to the teachers. They helped the teachers to understand that Nick wasn't being difficult, and that this may or may not be a phase. When a child is this young, you just don't know."
From Nick to Nicki
"Nicki desperately wanted to be female all the time. When she was 10, we feminised her name from Nick to Nicki at home. The following year, Nicki started secondary school as a girl.
"The school was very supportive, but because she moved up to secondary school with her peer group, everybody knew.
"In the first week, she was called a 'tranny' and a 'man-beast'. She was spat on and attacked in the corridors. Within her first six months of being at that school, she took four overdoses.
"We then pulled her out of school, but after a few months she decided to go back. Each year, the bullying and isolation got worse, and Nicki started harming herself. At the beginning of year nine, I transferred her to another secondary school, but unfortunately the kids there found out.
"At that point, I withdrew her from school completely, and the education welfare office found her a place at a Specialist Inclusive Learning Centre, which is a unit for children who can't cope with mainstream schooling for various health reasons."
Going through puberty
"When Nicki started puberty, I wanted her to get the type of treatment that's offered in the Netherlands, where puberty is blocked before major physical changes take place.
"I felt that if she was going to change her mind about being a girl, she would have done so by now. The Tavistock Clinic wouldn't give her hormone blockers."
The Tavistock and Portman follows British guidelines, which at the time suggested not introducing hormone blockers until the latter stages of puberty. Since January 2011, the age at which this hormonal treatment may be offered has been lowered from 16 to 12, or younger if a child is in established puberty.
"In the end, we went to a doctor in the US," says Sharon. "I found him through the WPATH network [The World Professional Association for Transgender Health]. Nicki was 13 when she started taking hormone blockers. It's put her male puberty on hold and given her time to think.
"If she hadn't been given blockers, she would have suffered the psychological agony of going through male puberty. She told me she would have killed herself. Nowadays, you'd never guess that she was born male.
"If at any point Nicki were to tell me that she wasn't sure that this was the right thing for her, we'd simply stop the injections and male puberty would go ahead. For Nicki, the next step is starting hormones and surgery as soon as she can.
"During the first few years of secondary school, I was constantly in fear for Nicki's life. It was so distressing to watch her go through all of this.
"Now, it's a million times better. She's a typical teenage girl, and it's a blessing. She leaves a mess, she borrows my clothes, my make-up and my perfume. I never thought she'd reach this stage. She still has to face many more hurdles, but she's looking forward to adulthood."
*The names in this article have been changed.
Where to get help
The NHS Gender Identity Development Service (GIDS), based at the Tavistock and Portman NHS Foundation Trust, is a highly specialised service for young people. Its website has useful information for parents and children.
The charity Mermaids provides family support for children and teenagers with gender identity issues, and can put you in touch with other parents with similar experiences.
Gendered Intelligence provides support for young trans or gender questioning people.
This story reflects one mother's experience. Because gender identity issues are complex and each case is different, Sharon's story shouldn't be seen as typical.